U.S. agents have disrupted a suspected major drug smuggling operation accused of engaging in narco-terrorism, conspiring to import narcotics into the United States, and providing aid and weapons — including surface-to-air missiles — to a South American paramilitary terrorist group.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief Michele M. Leonhart said seven defendants, including Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, head of the Guinea-Bissau navy, were arrested in separate operations in New York and Colombia. Mr. Na Tchuto has been designated a drug kingpin by the Treasury Department.
“These DEA arrests are significant victories against terrorism and international drug trafficking. Alleged narco-terrorists such as these, who traffic drugs in West Africa and elsewhere, are some of the world’s most violent and brutal criminals,” Ms. Leonhart said.
“They have no respect for borders, and no regard for either the rule of law or who they harm as a result of their criminal endeavors. These cases further illustrate frightening links between global drug trafficking and the financing of terror networks,” she said.
Arrested in New York were Mr. Na Tchuto, Manuel Mamdi Maine, Saliu Sisse, Papis Djeme and Tchamy Yala.
Rafael Antonio Garavito-Garcia and Gustavo Perez-Garcia, both Colombian nationals, were arrested in Colombia pursuant to Interpol Red Notices. They are accused of seeking to sell surface-to-air missiles to FARC for use against U.S. military forces to protect processing operations in Colombia.
According to federal court documents, beginning last summer, the defendants communicated with confidential sources working with the DEA who posed as representatives or associates of FARC, the Spanish acronym for Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The communications occurred by telephone, email and audio-recorded and videotaped meetings over several months in Guinea-Bissau, a country of 1.5 million people on the west coast of Africa.
During meetings in Guinea-Bissau beginning in June and continuing through at least mid-November, Mr. Mane, Mr. Sisse, Mr. Garavito-Garcia and Mr. Perez-Garcia agreed to receive and store multiton shipments of FARC-owned cocaine in Guinea-Bissau, the documents show. They agreed to receive the cocaine off the coast and store it in houses there pending its eventual shipment to the U.S., where it would be sold for the financial benefit of FARC, a leftist guerrilla group that waged a decadeslong battle against Colombia’s government.
The documents show that the defendants agreed that a portion of the cocaine would be used to pay Guinea-Bissau government officials for providing safe passage for the cocaine through their country.
On Aug. 31, during a recorded meeting in Bogota, Colombia, Mr. Garavito-Garcia and Mr. Perez-Garcia agreed to facilitate the receipt of approximately 8,800 pounds of cocaine from FARC in Guinea Bissau, approximately 1,100 pounds of which would later be sent to customers in the U.S. and Canada, the documents show.
During a recorded meeting in Guinea-Bissau with Mr. Mane and Mr. Sisse on Nov. 13, a Guinean military official advised one of the confidential sources that the weapons transaction could be executed once FARC brought money to Guinea Bissau and that the anti-aircraft missiles could be used against U.S. helicopters operating in Colombia.